Posted tagged ‘Astronomy’

Observation Log 9/9/09: ISS/Discovery overflight, with a frightening surprise

September 9, 2009

Discovery passed almost directly overhead tonight, with the ISS following 27 seconds later. Thankfully Jan was there to share it, and to witness something we’ve never seen before or probably will see again.

Just as Discovery passed straight overhead, a plume of white, faintly colorful reflections appeared right around it, and expanded for about ten seconds, dimming as it grew with the shuttle still in the middle. It was still faintly visible when it was about 1/2° across, or about the apparent size of the full moon. My immediate thought was something had gone terribly wrong. After a moment I realized we’d probably seen the Orbital Maneuvering System fire a burst of flames, during operation or perhaps testing.

I had a video camera set up to try and catch some light trails, but unfortunately it wasn’t pointed straight up. Even so, that was just stunning.

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Observation Log 9/8/09: The Space Shuttle and ISS fly overhead, about 1° apart!

September 8, 2009

That was amazing. Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station just graced our skies. The shuttle had departed the ISS a few hours ago, and was visible about a degree ahead of the station as they passed from the SW to the E. Culmination was at 31°, and even through the haze both vehicles were plainly visible without binoculars.

Wow! I only wish I could have shared that with someone.

Observation Log 7/20/09: ISS & STS-127

July 20, 2009

The International Space Station, currently docked with Space Shuttle Endeavour, just made a nice pass overhead. Although I have broken clouds at the moment, I managed to get a very nice view.

In the process, I tested a valuable new technique (for me, at least) for spotting ISS passes. I have an iPhone 3GS, which has a built-in clock and a built-in compass. So, I set up several alarms for the sighting (start, highest elevation, and end), noting from Heavens Above what the compass direction would be and putting that number in each alarm. When the alarms go off, I can quickly pull up the compass and know where to look.

This might seem a bit of overkill, except that my attempt to spot the ISS about a week ago failed! I’ve never completely missed it before. The pass was low in the sky and went through skyglow from the city to the north, but I think I should have been able to see it. Anyway, this little trick should help.

If I had unlimited energy and resources, I would love to write an iPhone application that would use the GPS, compass, the timers, and the inclinometers in the iPhone to allow a user to find any sky object (satellites especially) just by pointing the phone at the sky. Words or sounds could indicate which way to adjust the pointing angle (up, down, left, right) to find what you’re looking for. Real fanatics fans like myself could even hold a laser pointer with the phone, to make spotting even easier! Hopefully someone will do that some day soon!

Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” TV series, now free online

June 19, 2009

This is a real treasure. Many thanks go to Hulu.com.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Carl Sagan’s "Cosmos" TV series, now …", posted with vodpod

Observation Log 2/25/09: Comet Lulin!

February 25, 2009

Hiya kids. I’ve been observing casually whenever possible, and catching every ISS overflight I can. Nothing worth writing about, and life/work has been far too busy to wax eloquent on anything except, “When is bedtime?”

Still, this was an exception.

It was an easy hop from Saturn to locate Comet Lulin. The coma was well-defined, and easily 1° across. The nucleus was also easily spotted, centered within. Averted vision revealed a bit more light, but not a lot. I was only out for 10 minutes tops, so between that and the sky conditions it wasn’t a fantastic opportunity; just a very good one.

Tonight is my first non-overcast night in a while, and coincidentally the evening of Lulin’s closest pass, approximately 38 million miles from Earth. I know it’s impossible, but it actually looked closer than the background stars!

This is National Dark Sky Week!

March 29, 2008

From March 29 to April 4 is the annual National Dark Sky Week. And tonight, from 8 to 9PM is Earth Hour. To take part in tonight’s event, turn off the lights and appliances you don’t need (like a PC running 24/7?) from 8 to 9PM. Outdoor lights are especially encouraged. Similarly, National Dark Sky week promotes energy saving and a better view of the beautiful universe around us for the whole week.

And it’s always a good thing do put less carbon into the atmosphere. Give it a try!

More information here.

Spectacular Space Shuttle night launch video

March 22, 2008

Space Shuttle Endeavour had cameras mounted on its solid rocket boosters when it climbed into orbit on March 11. Together they produced a beautiful video of a night launch from the spacecraft’s point of view. It’s hard to believe the shuttle is 28 miles up and moving at 3100 mph when the boosters detach—without the Earth in the background, the spacecraft appears still.